CENTRAL – Live Oak edged out Central 2-1 Friday night in a key district 4-II matchup due in no small part to the heroic goalkeeping of senior Kylie Stringer.
Stringer recorded six saves, with each growing in significance over the previous one. She snuffed out even more threats by leaving her line and claiming through balls before they could develop into scoring chances.
Central’s accomplished scorer Chloe Bourque was able to beat her on a one-on-one opportunity, but outside of that Stringer turned in an impressive performance by any standard.
“Kylie Stringer saved us four or five times,” Live Oak coach Kraig Zeller said. “Man, without some of her saves…we were lucky in some cases that she was there. She had an excellent game.”
Stringer said the game carried plenty of significance for the Lady Eagles.
“This game means a lot to all of us,” she said. “We were coming out here and we were determined to win. We knew what we had to do and that fueled me to play the best that I could. There was a lot of pressure. This is a huge game. This is probably what we consider to be out biggest game of the season. We all were just so focused, it was a whole different energy out there. There’s nothing like it. You definitely get into a zone and you can’t even thing about it. It’s all instinct and you have to trust yourself to be able to do what you know how to do.”
Live Oak (13-3-1, 1-0 in district) outshot Central 20-15 and placed 11 of its shots on goal. While both of Live Oak’s goals came via counter attacks, they were able to control possession when necessary and dictated the first half stalemate.
“The first half was the best half I’ve seen Live Oak play all year,” Zeller said. “I told the girls at halftime if they could give me another 40 minutes like that then they could win the game.”
Despite giving up two goals, Central (9-7-1, 1-1) came alive offensively in the first half and made Stringer work. The Lady Wildcats put seven of their shots on target and winning five free kicks and three corners throughout the match.
Central was without prolific goal scorer Raghan Walker for most of the game after she came out with an injury around the 15th minute and was unable to return to action.
Walker’s absence altered the Lady Wildcats’ attack for a span but were able to adjust without her.
“I had things kind of set up,” Central coach Victoria Eskola said. “Then the person that you need goes out and we don’t have a lot of bench…it’s difficult to overcome something like that. But they still put up a good fight. There’s still a lot of season left so you can still do great things.”
After a well-contested first half Alicia Carlos put LOHS on the board first in the 45th minute. She buried a penalty kick following a shove to a Lady Eagles player that was trying to control possession of a through ball.
Carlos’ penalty was hit low and fast into the inside of the near post, a tough shot for anybody to save.
Down a goal in an emotional game, Central rallied from its one-goal deficit.
“We were saying that it’s not over, there’s still time, we have a chance” Central’s Chloe Bourque said. “And we did. We got it back and fell again. We might have lost confidence, I don’t think we gave up through.”
Less than a minute later, Central answered with a goal of its own.
Bourque ran between two Live Oak defenders and defeated Stringer in a one-on- one chance at point-blank range. She waited for Stringer to come off her line and then hit the ball with the side of her foot into the near side of the netting.
“I got a ball played to me and I flicked it around the defender,” Bourque said. “I made a cut and then stopped in front of the goal, then I took my shot.”
“You give up a penalty kick in the first three or four minutes and I was convinced the energy was going to go down,” Eskola said. “And then they just come back to life. Chloe is an exceptional player. People overlook her sometimes because of Raghan, but she’s an exceptional player.”
In the 51st minute, Live Oak was awarded yet another penalty and Carlos was chosen to take it. She tried the same shot as before, only this time Central goalkeeper Marissa Mayo jumped the shot, knocking it to safety.
“We’ve been playing against Carlos for four years,” Eskola said. “We know how she plays, we know that’s what she does, PK or not. (Mayo) was trying to be mentally prepared for those type of shots. So maybe it was just that mental preparedness of going after those shots for several days this week.”
Live Oak pulled back in front in the 60th minute when Maddy Harrouch got a ball beyond Central’s back line. At first the pass seemed to carry too far, but Harrouch tracked it down near the touchline, twisted her body to fire off a shot from a tight angle. The ball skipped under the roof of the net to regain the lead for good.
“What was very impressive to me was that after (Bourque’s goal), they didn’t put their head down,” Zeller said. “We’ve had that problem mentally in some games this year. We didn’t back down. We went back to our game and got that second goal…all in all, I’m very proud of my girls.”